Southwest Airlines service at Dayton airport begins Sunday

Southwest Airlines begins direct service from Dayton to Denver International Airport on Sunday, opening a pathway for travelers to connect with the carrier’s flights from Denver to the West Coast and elsewhere.

It will address what has been a weakness in service offerings from Dayton International Airport to western destinations, said Terrence G. Slaybaugh, Dayton’s director of aviation.

Southwest bought rival low-fare carrier AirTran Airways, now a Southwest subsidiary, in May 2011 for $1 billion and plans to eventually phase out the AirTran brand by servicing all routes with Southwest personnel and the airline’s Boeing 737 aircraft.

But the significance of the 4 p.m. Sunday departure to Denver is that it will be the first official Southwest flight from Dayton, using the company’s own aircraft and personnel. That will allow travelers to connect with other Southwest flights out of Denver, the airline’s fastest-growing market, an option that has not been available with a Dayton-to-Denver flight that AirTran started in June, Slaybaugh said.

“Hopefully, this will accelerate the transition of AirTran into Southwest here in Dayton,” he said.

Frontier and United airlines also offer daily direct service between Dayton and Denver.

The Southwest flight is to arrive at 3:30 p.m. Sunday from Denver, pick up passengers and leave a half-hour later for the return trip to Denver. The Dayton airport will celebrate the arrival and departure with the tradition of firing criss-crossing streams from airport fire engine water cannons, Slaybaugh said.

It is a noteworthy occasion for Dayton. The city, like others around the country, has tried for years to persuade Southwest to offer local service. The Dallas-based carrier has offered service for years from Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville.

Slaybaugh, who started with the city of Dayton in March 2011, said he had also tried unsuccessfully in prior years to bring Southwest service to Rochester, N.Y., where he previously served as director of aviation.

Southwest employees have been at the Dayton airport for several weeks, redoing the ticket counter and making other preparations.

AirTran has typically been the second-busiest carrier in Dayton, behind Delta Air Lines. Southwest is eager to build on AirTran’s business base in Dayton, Southwest spokesman Brooks Thomas said.

Thomas declined to discuss what Southwest plans in terms of future flight service from Dayton, saying that will depend on demand.

Denver has been Southwest’s fastest-growing market as measured by routes served and passenger loads, Thomas said.

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